Ag Solutions Coordinator Theresa Dirksen provided the following: 

In January 2018, Mercer SWCD and Ag Solutions mailed a survey to 180 farmers in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed (Mercer and Auglaize counties). The results of that survey are summarized below. We believe this effort was a great success and illustrates that the farmers take a strong interest in water quality issues and the health of Grand Lake St. Marys. 

2018 Grand Lake St. Marys Farmer Survey Results

Mercer County Ag Solutions and Mercer Soil and Water Conservation District

In January 2018, 180 surveys were mailed to farmers in the Grand Lake St. Marys (GLSM) Watershed. The farmers included those that currently meet the distressed watershed rules, those that are permitted through the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and a few others that had previously met the distressed watershed rules, but no longer meet the rules.  A total of 103 surveys were returned, for a final response rate of 57.2%. Below are the summarized results from the 57.2% of returned surveys.

  • Returned surveys represent approximately 49% of the cropland in the GLSM Watershed
  • 77% of farmers have noticed changes in nutrient management practices in the past 3 years among farmers in the community
  • 83% of farmers have implemented manure management practice changes in their farm in the last 3 years
  • The majority of respondents were concerned to extremely concerned about the impact of nutrient loss on GLSM, farm impacts on local water quality and nutrient losses from their farms
  • Approximately 75% of respondents are concerned with other non-farm nutrient impacts to GLSM, such as septic systems, wastewater treatment plant discharges and lawn fertilizer runoff
  • 2/3 of the respondents feel that not applying manure within 24 hours of a forecasted rain of ½” or more has a good or great impact on reducing nutrients leaving their farms
  • Approximately 60% of respondents feel that a widespread adoption of nutrient incorporation and filter strips will have a good to great impact on water quality in GLSM
  • 50% of respondents are incorporating all land-applied nutrients, and another 20% are willing to in the near future
  • 40% of respondents already have at least 20-foot wide filter strips installed, and another 10% are willing to install filter strips in the near future
  • 75% of respondents are over 50% confident that they will not apply manure to a field with a soil test phosphorus value above 100 lb/ac (50 ppm)
  • 67% of respondents are not interested or unlikely to engage in drainage water management practices

Cover Crops:

  • Nearly 70% of respondents are using cover crops, and another 10% are willing to try cover crops in the near future
  • 70% of respondents are over 50% confident that they will plant cover crops in the upcoming season
  • 3,328 acres of cover crops were planted in the GLSM watershed through 2017-2018 winter by the respondents (57%)
  • On average, the respondents plant 3,750 acres of cover crops each year
  • Wheat is the most common cover crop, followed by oats, cereal rye, cover crop mixes, and others
  • Drilling cover crops is the most widely used method of planting, at 67%

Major barriers to implement certain practices are listed below:

  • Incorporation of manure can be challenging due to: uncertainties with weather and timing; incorporation is incompatible with other farming practices (no-till); and insufficient manpower or labor
  • Respondents feel that not applying phosphorus to fields with high soil test phosphorus values (100 lb/ac or greater) may not reduce nutrient runoff and is a practice that may not be successfully adopted by most
  • Reasons for not planting cover crops or installing a new best management practice include: uncertainty with weather and timing; additional upfront financial investment; the practice interferes with timing of other field operations; and insufficient manpower or labor

Specific statistics include (valid % of the survey respondents):

  • 47% use conventional tillage
  • 34% use conservation tillage
  • 19% use no-tillage
  • 47% of manure is typically applied in the fall, 25% in the summer, 27% in the spring and 1% is side-dressed

When asked if there was a service available to treat and/or move manure, the respondents said:

  • 31% prefer a mobile service that would come to the farm to recover phosphorus from manure as long as the cost was less than $0.01 per gallon
  • 24% prefer a centrally located facility within 5-10 miles to truck manure to, where the only cost incurred to the farmer is the trucking cost
  • 36% prefer to truck manure 10+ miles to fields with allowable soil test phosphorus values
  • 8% said other

Survey data collected will be used to determine future programming and future education efforts. Based on this data, Mercer SWCD and Ag Solutions will look into an education program on the Tri-State Fertility Guide recommendations and drainage water management practices. We will also look to provide education on wastewater treatment plant processes, permitting and discharges and how they impact local water quality.

This survey data has also already been a tremendous help in applying for grants for future water quality improvement practices. Two different Ohio EPA grants were submitted in March of 2018 and are awaiting award notifications. These grants, if funded, will provide cost-share programs to put conservation on the ground and will also aid in a variety of education efforts. If you have any future ideas or opinions to share, please communicate them to Ag Solutions (419.586.4209) or Mercer SWCD (419.586.3289).